Mars CMO on turning brand purpose into new business models

Jane Wakely has led Mars to create new business models from brand purpose

As voting opens for The WFA’s Global Marketer of the Year, The Drum sits down with finalist Jane Wakely, lead chief marketing officer at Mars.

Ahead of Cop26, Mars Incorporated pledged to be net-zero by 2050 and committed its biggest brand, Royal Canin, to hit net-zero by 2025. To meet its commitments, Mars is on a mission to move sustainability and purpose beyond communications ideas and into new business models.

Jane Wakely, lead chief marketing officer and pet nutrition chief, is driving this strategy by investing in propositions that have purpose or sustainability at the core.

From launching natural cat litter brand Natusan to developing the Nose ID app that helps find lost puppies, Wakely is pushing Mars brands to innovate against purpose.

“We have to make that connection between corporate promises to make it real and tangible for consumers. That’s what they’re calling for.” According to Wakley, her task is meeting “consumers’ growing desire to make sure their purchases and brand favorites deliver on their personal values.”

Other innovations include apps from pet food brand Pedigree to match abandoned pets with potential owners, tech that helps shelter staff check-in pets, and the recently launched Lovebug, an insect protein cat food brand.

“The biggest challenges we face as marketers are the ones society faces and we need to step into society’s biggest challenges.”

Wakely, who joined Mars’s marketing ranks over 20 years ago, is working up ideas to make consumer movements around purpose and “bring our pledges to life”.

This thinking led Wakely to spearhead Sheba’s coral reef regrowth project, which grew the word ‘Hope’ off the coast of Indonesia in coral. Created in collaboration with the Indonesian government, The Nature Conservancy and National Geographic Creative Works, the Hope Grows reef can be seen growing in real-time on YouTube.

The idea behind the Sheba project was to “get consumers involved and alight their imagination and create a moment,” she says. “We want to bring customers on a journey and show them how they can make a difference by buying responsibly sourced fish.”

Across the portfolio of brands Mars’s ambition is “to drive transformational sustainable growth by ensuring that every brand interaction creates shared and mutual value,” Wakely says.

To incorporate all brands, Mars has divided its portfolio into “activist brands” like Pedigree, which campaigns to end pet homelessness, and “advocate brands” like Sheba.

State of talent and agency relations

Wakely believes embedding purpose into Mars’s core strategy will give it a competitive advantage amid industry-wide talent shortages. “People want to leap out of bed to end pet homelessness, only some people want to leap out of bed to grow another 10%.

“Because the marketing task has become so complex and fragmented, you do need experts, but the problem is everyone wants the same experts,” she says of the talent crisis. According to Wakely, companies need to work harder to differentiate to attract experts: “Do you offer what those experts are looking for in a career?”

Mars has found brand purpose “is an incredible engagement tool for associates and partners”.

Like other big brands, Mars is undergoing an in-housing strategy. Wakely says the business is in the process of deciding what its “strategic competitive advantages” are and looking at what aspects of its strategy it’s better to “own and shape” itself.

First-party data is one of those. “Data analytics that helps us understand our growth that is a strategic driver that we believe we need full access to and should be in house,” Wakely says. “The governance and strategic driving of our data assets is vital to consumer privacy”.

Removing stereotypes in advertising

In March, Maltesers launched a maternal mental health ad campaign #themassiveovershare to help women and their families get access to information and support. Wakely says she was “immensely proud” of that campaign, which “faced up to difficult and tough areas and ultimately destigmatized maternal mental health”. The Maltesers campaign is part of Mars’s work around destigmatizing and removing stereotypes from its advertising.

To ensure its content is representative, Mars is audited annually by the Geena Davis Institute. Wakely acknowledges there is still lots to learn, but the industry is getting better each year.

Behind the camera, Wakely says D&I approaches need to be done in collaboration with agencies. “When there are challenges or issues, we partner with our agencies to help solve them, we don’t just see them as suppliers we see them as partners.”

Wakely says that while Mars trusts its strategic partners to deliver the best talent, it’s also Mars’s responsibility to bring unconscious basis to the fore ensuring agency accounts meet D&I expectations. As a result, Mars now triple-bids its creative work, asking agency partners not to progress to bidding unless one of its candidates is a woman.

The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and The Drum have partnered once again to find the Global Marketer of the Year. We’ll be running interviews with all finalists ahead of the vote closing on December 31. You can cast your vote to crown this year’s winner here.